DENVER — The businessman accused of swindling people out of their life savings by promising to build them tiny homes and not delivering is now the target of a police investigation.
Matt Sowash, founder of the Colorado-based nonprofit Holy Ground Tiny Houses, has also filed for bankruptcy, court records revealed Wednesday.
A convicted felon who previously served two years in prison for bilking investors in unrelated ventures, Sowash made the move to protect his assets just a month after he suggested in an interview with NBC News that he might not declare bankruptcy “because I can’t sit back and watch all those people lose homes.”
But Sowash sang a different tune in an Oct. 7 bankruptcy filing in Denver and in an Oct. 14 update that he sent to his customers.
“This has really been a week of change,” Sowash wrote. “I first want to apologize for this situation. Unfortunately, filing for Chapter 11 is the only way I can make sure the business is safe and that we can live up to our obligation of making sure everyone gets their money back.”
Sowash’s activities have also drawn the attention of the Englewood Police Department in Colorado, which confirmed it is investigating the allegations against him and his nonprofit.
“I guess this was expected,” said customer Lori Birckhead, who runs the By Faith Farm in Tennessee with her husband, where they grow fresh vegetables for the needy.
“The thing that hurts the most is, yes, we talked a lot about faith," she said of Sowash. "Part of why I was purchasing from him was because of what I heard from him. He came across as a godly person.”
Birckhead said she wired $46,504 to Sowash in April for an 8-foot-by-28 foot home that she was going to put on their land. She said she was told it would be delivered in July.
“But here we are, and there’s no home,” she said.
Birckhead said that after she repeatedly called and emailed Sowash's office, she finally heard from an assistant who said it was would take up to 27 months to deliver the home she had paid for.
“That was when I hired a private investigator who did some digging and discovered that he (Sowash) didn’t have any assets in his name,” she said.
Charles Dowling, a disabled Army veteran who lives near Colorado Springs, said he had some misgivings about buying a tiny home from Sowash.
“I felt weird about it, but it was a Christian organization,” said Dowling, 39. “That’s the only reason I went with it.”
But he’s been forced to sleep on the couches of various friends because the 30-foot house he ordered from Sowash, and for which he made a $22,000 down payment, did not arrive in July as promised.
“He’s nothing but a shyster, and no one should ever do business with this man,” Dowling said.
Sowash did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Tiny homes have been touted as a solution to homelessness and an affordable way for many to put a roof over their heads as home prices across the country have skyrocketed.
Sowash promoted the small residences on social media, including to his 80,000 TikTok followers. In the short videos, he portrayed himself as an upbeat, God-fearing man who was offering affordable homes with financing and no credit checks.
“For people that can’t pay for a house all at once, we can finance you. Holy Ground Tiny Homes. Get yours today,” Sowash said in one TikTok video.
“Great house, available now, around $45,000 is what this goes for. Come in and take it away,” he said in another video, wearing a T-shirt adorned with “Faith Over Fear.”
Confronted with complaints and lawsuits from customers who said they were stiffed, Sowash told NBC News he never set out to take advantage of anyone. But he conceded that he was not sure whether he would be able to build the 250 homes already paid for, in full or in part.
Sowash said his company was three years behind schedule because of supply chain problems and the rising cost of construction materials. The homes are made at a warehouse in Arapahoe County in Colorado, where he employs at least 25 workers.
But Sowash is no stranger to trouble. He was sentenced in 2009 to five years in prison for bilking more than $470,000 from investors who gambled on an amateur poker league he had founded. He also was convicted of stealing $140,000 from three other marks who thought he was looking for investment opportunities for them.
Deon Hampton reported from Denver, and Corky Siemaszko from New York City.